Surprisingly Rabelaisian pleasures

Rabelais from Thelema Mountain Vineyards is widely thought to be one of South Africa’s best Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. It is grown in the Stellenbosch viticultural area where South African Cabernet is at its finest. I am very lucky to be trying a bottle of the excellent 2017 vintage.

Rabelais is not pure Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something I approve of as I think Cabernet is best with friends. The blend is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Petit Verdot – not a famous varietal, but it adds good perfume and structure to Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines.

This wine has got crazily good reviews from a number of reviewers, so we are thinking this all sounds pretty positive.

Slight problem is I am not the biggest fan of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. I like really, and I mean really obscenely, flash Claret, I like Paul Sauer, I like Deep Woods Estate Reserve, but a lot of these rather ripe, rather oaky, rather extracted, rather international-style Cabernet Sauvignons just leave me somewhat cold. Naturally, I will set my mind to ‘open’ before I try this, but this wine will have to try to convince me.

I say this with hope in my heart: Many thanks to my good friend Greg Sherwood MW, a renowned expert on South African wines, for encouraging me to go out of my comfort-zone and give this a go. He given he is a Master of Wine and his field of expertise he should know if something it top bunny, we shall see…

Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, ThelemaRabelais Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Thelema Mountain Vineyards

I just had a taste of this to see if it would benefit from decanting. It seems pretty tannic, but not overly extracted, so I have double-decanted and I will report on my next taste in 45 minutes.

Well, I am not reporting on my next taste, I am reporting on my last glass of my half of the bottle because, bugger me, I am really enjoying this Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon! It may be a shade boozy but, by arse, it is fabulous. I would suggest anyone buying flash super-second-type 2019 Claret to save some money and buy Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon, you will have just as sophisticated, but a more fun time.

OK, the tasting note thing. Initially it was a tiny bit cold as I had put it in the fridge before and after I decanted it (as it is a warm day in Winchester) and this had made the wood stand out a little bit.

However, I thought it seemed too chilled so I warmed my glass in my hands and, lo, balance and harmony were restored. The oak is perfectly well-integrated, especially if you consider that this is a young wine. It shows as cedar-y with shades of aged Havana cigar.

There are pencil shavings and a distinct aroma of the graveliness one gets with quality Claret. This Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon has complexity and real class on the nose.

There is more than enough fruit too. It is not the preserved blackcurrants of crème de cassis as most international Cabernet Sauvignons show, but freshly plucked and crushed blackcurrants that burst with summer sun ripened freshness. Deeee-lish, this Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon.

The thing that I really enjoyed on the nose as I flew through my half of the bottle was that all the aromas were in wonderful harmony with each other. There is a stable equilibrium of all the components as I have sniffed this, particularly now it is not at fridge temperature. It is absolutely glorious!

I have been surprised by how much I enjoyed the palate of this wonderful Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon as well. The first thing that grabbed me about it was its energy and life.

The acidity is really well judged, and I do not think it has been added with a shovel a la New Zealand Pinot Noir. It is so integrated with the rest of the palate I would say it has to be, largely at the very least, naturally derived. I think that is thanks, in part, to the Petit Verdot.

I found this acidity suffused the wood- and fruit-derived tannins to create a vigorous and totally compelling structure. It is both lively and supportive of the fruit.

The palate of the Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon has really fresh, but luxurious fruit. It is charged with life from the acidity and from being picked whilst ripe than overripe. I am frankly amazed by how much I am enjoying this.

There is a graveliness to the palate of the Rabelais Cabernet Sauvignon as well. This is an involute example of the Cabernet Sauvignon-genre. It is very Claret-y, but… god damn it, it is more interesting. I am amazed I am saying this about something I expected to be just a little ordinary.

On the finish of this Rabelais there is a powerful mineral/gravel grip and the fruit just lasts and lasts. I am not a tit-ish wine writer who says things like, “This finish was 60+ seconds long!”, but this has prodigious length after you swallow and it still leaves you feeling the breadth of the fruit and tannin. Just wow!

OK, this is truly wonderful wine. I am surprised, and a tiny bit irritated, to admit it, but this is really good and better than most Claret at multiples its price. Buy it, love it. Thanks, Greg!

Buy from Handford.